Celebrating Excellence: 2020 Awards

The UW Department of Communication is proud to celebrate student achievements with our annual collection of Excellence Awards, this year totaling over $19,000 in student financial aid. These students have proven to be exemplary scholars in the areas of journalism, research, communication, and ethics.

The Excellence Awards are funded through the generosity and support of our alumni and friends. Each honor has a story behind it – whether created by friends of the Department to celebrate a prestigious professor, recognize a prized alum, or remember a fallen journalist who left behind a legacy. Read about each award and its 2020 recipients, in their own words, below:

The Deborah Kaplan Awards for Narrative Journalism

The Deborah Kaplan Awards for Narrative Journalism were created to honor the work and legacy of Communication professor Deborah Kaplan, who passed unexpectedly in 2006. Kaplan was an innovative journalist and educator who had a long history of writing about social issues. In both of her careers, as a journalist and as a university professor, she used in-depth interviews, immersion reporting, and field work to document and detail the human condition. The Deborah Kaplan Awards are given annually to support outstanding undergraduate work in narrative journalism.


In the category of a Story that Demonstrates an Epiphany:

Camille Bishop, “Satsop” || Awards, and student engagement like this, are part of why Camille chose to attend the UW. Since she was 10, she knew she wanted to study Communication and homed in on the UW, researching the community, the reviews, even the alumni. Camille was so stressed out about submitting her application, wanting to get in so badly, that she actually waited until an hour before it was due to hit “submit,” even though she had filled the entire application out the day it became available. As a first-generation college student, getting to come to the UW, working hard to get her degree in two years, and being so accepted has been a dream come true. This school has been an amazing experience for her, and she is forever grateful.

Joshua Lee, “Death by Circumstance

In the category of a Story about an Important Public Issue:

Sarah Shapiro, “Another Day, Another Death” || Although Sarah knew she was a strong writer, she feels that Professor Underwood’s class really encouraged her to explore writing as a passion. Moreover, after taking this writing class, Sarah was inspired to apply to work for The Daily, the UW’s student newspaper. She is currently a staff writer, covering news, and arts and leisure. She adds that she is most appreciative that someone read her work and found value in it, and that she is honored to have received this award.

Zoe Thompson, “Steak and Potatoes for Life” || Zoe believes communication is one of the most important parts of being human, and it seems strange to her that there are people who do not support the field of communications. There are so many people who mistrust journalists, or even hate them, which is why she thinks the type of journalism Deborah Kaplan practiced is so important; Kaplan really dug into important social issues, and in doing so was able to connect with people who might feel disconnected from more traditional journalism. Zoe has always loved writing; it has been amazing for her to see that anyone, even someone? like her, can create something that others enjoy reading.

In the category of a Story about People on the Margins:

Chloe Cook, “Jackie’s House” || Chloe would like to express her great gratitude to all of the donors who have made this award possible; their support has put her that much closer to achieving her dreams. She has truly enjoyed the time that she has spent at the University of Washington, where her experiences in the Department of Communication have allowed her passion for writing to flourish.

Sarah Shapiro, “Mother’s Little Helper

In the category of a Story with a Strong Human Profile:

Rochelle Bowyer, “The Man Women of the House” || Rochelle thinks there is a conventional narrative to stay away from things that might seem to have limits because of disability. However, as a dyslexic journalist, she is slowly coming to terms with the concept that, because she is dyslexic, it doesn’t mean she is a lousy journalist; it just means that her articles need more time and care. That is one of the reasons the donors, and this award, mean so much to her. Moreover, with every scholarship and award that Rochelle earns, our donors are supporting her ability to have a more successful education.

Ragini Gupta, “Understanding Identity through Art” || Ragini Gupta is interested in exploring narrative journalism, and how writing can be utilized as an intersectional tool to enhance human connection. They aspire to combine their love for poesis with narrative journalism by exploring topics such as gender, race, and sexuality – to name a few.

In the Category of a Story with a Strong Writing Style:

Ragini Gupta, “Ma and Me”

Hannah Krieg, “Before We Broke Our Streak” || Hannah is a second year journalism student at the UW. At a university that always seems more concerned with computer science and engineering, she is honored to be recognized for her hard work as a social science major. Hannah loves writing, she loves the process, loves what it can do for the world, and she loves that generous donors within the Department are committed to supporting young writers. Hannah thinks journalism is more important than ever: Our world is crazy. We had wildfires rip through Australia, a global pandemic, and an unprecedented push for police accountability, and that’s just 2020. We need writers to make sense of the world, to inform the public, to use journalism as activism.

Erica Schroeder, “Spring Break 2013” || Erica is beyond honored and grateful to be on the receiving end of one of the 2020 Deborah Kaplan Awards for Narrative Journalism. She wants to thank everyone who has made, and continues to make, the Deborah Noel Kaplan Endowed Fund what it is today. As someone who turns to writing to express herself and make sense of the world, Erica deeply appreciates the support from the Department. This recognition has given her the confidence to explore a potential career in journalism, and she thanks our donors for their support and encouragement of young writers.


Pioneer News Group Awards for Excellence in Journalism

The Pioneer News Group is a multimedia company committed to advancing and empowering the communities it serves by providing essential information and services as a trusted and indispensable public resource. In partnership with the Pioneer News Group, the Hearst Endowment, and because of their generous support of Journalism studies at the UW, the Department faculty gives annual awards in multiple journalism categories.


In the category of Breaking News:

Jake Goldstein-Street is a third-year student at the UW from Shoreline, Washington, studying journalism and political science. He writes for The Daily and freelances around Seattle. After college, Jake hopes to cover national politics, and his favorite books are “All the President’s Men” and “Between the World and Me.”

In the category of Community Journalism:

Miranda Milton is a journalism student at the UW. Born and raised in Washington, she loves her state. Miranda knew from a young age that she wanted to go to the UW Seattle for college, and through hard work and dedication, she made that dream a reality! Now she uses journalism to share stories of people in Washington. She has written for the UW’s paper, The Daily, and reported for communities around Seattle, including Mill Creek and Westlake.

Rachel Morgan is a junior pursuing a dual degree in Journalism and Marketing. While she works on completing her degrees, Rachel is working as the Opinion Editor at The Daily to help expand her writing portfolio and support student journalism. She enjoys writing about the unfamiliar, as it allows her to meet interesting people and explore different ways of life.

Hannah Sheil is a is a sophomore student at the University of Washington. She is an award-winning filmmaker and photographer, whose career highlight is winning first place in the All-American High School Film Festival Invitational in 2016. Hannah is continuing to pursue photography while also majoring in journalism and hopes to become a photojournalist.

In the category of Data Journalism:

Emma Scher is grateful to those who thought to nominate her for this award. The UW’s journalism program has given Emma opportunities to explore the field in so many different forms, from data journalism to state politics, national elections to international correspondence. She can genuinely say that she would not be the capable journalist that she is today without the support she has received from the Department. Emma believes this award will make a significant impact on helping her pay for tuition during summer quarter, so that she can continue participating in the Department’s national elections program for another few months. Current times have only intensified Emma’s awareness of the importance of journalism and what it stands for, and she thanks the donors again for giving her the ability to continue doing what she loves.

In the category of Enterprise Reporting:

Ragini Gupta

In the category of Ethics, Difference and Equity Journalism:

Nicole Pasia is in her third year of studying journalism at the UW. She has made the Dean’s List for several quarters and plays alto saxophone in the Husky Marching Band. She is a dedicated member of the publications committee of Kappa Kappa Psi (national honorary band fraternity) and is a writer and photographer for The Daily.

Liz Turnbull

In the category of Ethics and Empowerment Journalism:

Keelin Everly-Lang is passionate about the power of solutions journalism, environmental justice, food systems, and a dash of positive psychology. She is passionate about intersectional equity and using creative communication strategies to share solutions. Keelin graduated with her bachelor’s in Journalism last winter quarter.

Shauna Sowersby is a recent graduate from the UW, with a double major in journalism and political science. She chose the UW journalism program because she had heard nothing but positive things from other graduates. After a full-time legislative reporting internship at the Capitol, Shauna decided to become more civically engaged, so she began reporting in her own time about injustices regarding affordable housing. Since then, she has been working closely with low-income communities to report on how to fix the current issues they must deal with.

Abigail Taylor is a journalism major and philosophy minor with an intense curiosity about the world. She is passionate about exploring the world through stories that are not found in traditional media. While traveling and studying in Spain, she found a love for other cultures, and strives to incorporate that love into her work. Abigail’s dream job is to work as a photographer and/or writer for the National Geographic magazine. She is looking for a position to tell stories through profiles that use a range of media types including writing, photo, and video.

In the category of General Excellence:

Ragini Gupta

Andy Yamashita is a third-year journalism student with a minor in diversity. He has been a sportswriter and podcaster at The Daily since the first quarter of his freshman year. He chose to come to the UW to experience life outside the Bay Area, and the people he has met and stories he has been privileged enough to tell have continued to pay off. While he does not write with awards in mind, they are always great validation of his work, and push him to continue working hard and improving.

In the category of Legislative Journalism:

Claudia Yaw is a third-year journalism student minoring in Law, Societies, and Justice. She currently works at The Daily, where she reports on the UWPD (University of Washington Police Department?) and administration. She hopes to pursue a career in watchdog journalism.

In the category of Sports Reporting:

Alec Dietz graduated last fall from the UW. While in the Department of Communication, Alec served as the Sports Editor at The Daily, where he mostly covered football and men’s and women’s basketball. Additionally, Alec dabbled in broadcast journalism after completing an internship with KING 5 Sports in 2018. Alec is thrilled to be recognized for this award by the UW journalism faculty. It’s pretty wild that after three and a half(ish) long years at the UW, he is now ready to enter the professional world out of school, but he definitely didn’t anticipate that this would be the world he would enter. Alec plans to utilize his potion as a journalist to advocate for people of color and will work throughout his career to bring more diverse voices into our newsrooms across the country. He thanks you all again for the recognition and hopes that you are staying healthy and well during this tough time.

Josh Kirshenbaum

In the category of Visual Journalism:

Conor Courtney 

Shadrak Musafiri is a senior double majoring in journalism and photo-media, with a passion for visual storytelling. He moved to America from Congo, Kinshasa when he was 13, and comes from a family of 14. With his education, he hopes to cover community leaders that are helping immigrant, minority, and other underserved communities.


Jody Deering Nyquist Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Research

Jody Deering Nyquist is Associate Dean Emerita of the UW Graduate School and an emerita member of the graduate faculty of the UW Department of Communication. Having received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the UW, Nyquist has been a faculty member since 1969. In 2005, Nyquist was inducted into the inaugural class of the Department of Communication’s Alumni Hall of Fame, and in 2014 was selected the Department’s Distinguished Alumna. Nyquist and the University of Washington Department of Speech Communication (now part of the Department of Communication), established this annual award for undergraduate students who have demonstrated excellence in the study of communication and original research.


Johnna Bollesen chose the University of Washington and the Department of Communication because she believed this department would instill her with the skills, knowledge, and direction she needs to thrive in the working world. As someone with a passion for creative writing, and who finds significant value in collaborating with others to achieve something great, the Department of Communication enabled Johnna to excel on both fronts. This award will go towards her continued efforts to harness her passions, and to grow as a writer. Although Johnna knows she has much still to learn, with the support and encouragement of this community, she plans to accomplish a great deal.

Maryn Patterson has always had fond memories of this university, starting at a very young age from attending Husky Football games. The University of Washington was, and still is, her dream school, and this award is just the cherry on top of it all. Maryn has faced many hardships this past year while managing a rigorous course load, but with the help of this award, she will be able to pay for a course within her program that she would’ve otherwise had to wait to take until she could save up enough money to do so. Maryn feels so incredibly lucky to have been granted this opportunity, and she cannot thank you enough.

Ann Thompson knew she wanted to be a part of the Department of Communication even before she came to the University of Washington. Her passion for studying how language shapes our culture, relationships, and public policies, has led her to vibrant discoveries in her courses so far. The Jody Deering Nyquist Award represents that passion and reminds her why she chose to pursue Communication. She looks forward to pursuing a research project on adoption rhetoric, through the Departmental Honors program in Communication starting fall 2020.


Fred Baker Ethics Awards

Frederick E. Baker was a successful advertising and public relations practitioner in Seattle and beyond, influencing political and civic affairs in the state and in the nation’s capital. The Fred Baker Ethics Award was established in recognition of his accomplishment and quality of caring and is awarded to students who embody this long-time Seattle advertising executive’s commitment to ethical practice, leadership, and civic engagement.


Ian Kirk is a Communication major, who is also minoring in Entrepreneurship, at the University of Washington. Personally, Ian has a vested interest in mentorship, community building, and pursuing a career through which he can provide opportunities for young minorities to succeed. Growing up, Ian’s parents always used to tell him, “Someone is always watching,” and that was mainly to teach his brothers and him to live a truthful life. But for people to notice the things that Ian does in his communities is so reaffirming. With us being in such a turbulent time, with coronavirus and the murder of George Floyd, it can be so easy to be down on yourself; Ian never thought he would be picked for an award, never thought he would be recognized for his hard work in school. However, his reason for pursuing Communication at the University of Washington was to change the narrative of people that look like him, through success in the classroom and excellence in his community. In short… this feels good. Not only receiving the award but also knowing that there are people that truly believe in him.

Shauna Sowersby


Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award

To acknowledge the outstanding teaching of our graduate students, the UW Department of Communication Professional Development Committee, and the Graduate Committee, created a new award this year. Candidates are required to exemplify most, if not all of, the following qualities: extraordinary effectiveness as a UW instructor; extensive knowledge and mastery of the subject matter; effectiveness at engaging students and supporting student success; innovation in course and/or curriculum design; ability to inspire, guide, and mentor students through independent and creative thinking; service as a mentor, collaborator and/or consultant to other teaching assistants and instructors of record; and contributions to the scholarship of teaching and learning.


Devon Geary

“Devon is an inspiring, inclusive, and highly effective teacher in our department, guiding our students with exceptional skill, empathy, and care.” – The UW Department of Communication Professional Development Committee, and Graduate Committee


Faculty Awards for Outstanding Completed Research

Alumnus Peter Clarke is a world-renowned professor and researcher in health communication who has invested in our graduate and undergraduate students in all kinds of ways. Clarke and the Department of Communication created the Faculty Awards for Outstanding Completed Research to provide support and honor students who have completed research projects. The set of awards include four categories: an undergraduate honors thesis, an M.A. thesis (which was not to be awarded this year), an M.C. project, and a Ph.D. dissertation.

The Barbara Warnick Awards for Outstanding Completed Research honor the research, mentoring, and service of Barbara Warnick, whose leadership in Communication Studies broadly, and in rhetorical scholarship especially, produced knowledge about public argument that has inspired many colleagues and students. The Barbara Warnick Research Endowment provides financial support for insightful, creative scholarly research by M.A. and Ph.D. students in the Department of Communication.  As part of this endowment, the Department offers an annual Dissertation Proposal Award, open to all research themes, theory, and methods.

Finally, the Janice L. Ames & William E. Ames Diversity Research Award goes to an outstanding completed research paper by a graduate student with a focus on communication and difference.


Best Ph.D. Dissertation

Yunkang Yang

“The Political Logic of the Radical Right Media Sphere in the U.S.” || Chair: Lance Bennett

Yunkang Yang was born and raised in China. In 2013, he says he had the good fortune to be recruited by the Communication department as a Ph.D. student. When the American people elected Donald Trump as President in the 2016 election in the U.S., he decided to study American news media and politics; a risky decision partly because he felt that he didn’t have much native knowledge about American culture and politics as a foreigner. However, with the support and guidance from his doctoral committee, he was able to learn quickly, and identified an area where he felt he could make a meaningful contribution: right-wing media. In his dissertation, Yunkang proposes that media scholars look at right-wing media outlets as hybrid organizations that can activate as political organizations to pursue strategic goals.

Barbara Warnick Dissertation Proposal Award

Carolina Nieto Ruiz

“When Parks Take Over the Border”

After receiving this award, Carolina says she is more confident that her everyday efforts as a Ph.D. student have been worthwhile. She is very glad to be an international student in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. When Carolina was told that her dissertation proposal had received the Barbara Warnick Award, it made her feel that it is worth it to keep working as hard as she has been, and it made her confident in her research, which has been becoming gradually more committed to social justice issues. Carolina is interested in the rhetoric of public spaces and how it can persuade people to shape their attitudes. For her dissertation, she is comparing two bi-national parks: one lies on the border between the U.S. and Canada, and the other is between the U.S. and Mexico. Both were built as symbols of friendship and camaraderie between two nations, but have since evolved in very different ways; the northern park features an open, manicured grass lawn and highlights a sense of togetherness, while the southern park has an 18-foot tall wall cutting the park in half, highlighting a sense of separation that affects families that reunite there. Carolina is grateful for the support of this award, as it gives communication students like her the opportunity to keep working on their research and produce work that contributes to both the academic discipline and a wider public.

Best M.C. Project

Kanhaiya Maheshwary                                                                                                                                 

“Reimagining Digital Marketing for Credit Unions”

Kanhaiya Maheshwary grew up in Mumbai (India) in a family that is obsessed with movies, music, books, and all things media. As a result, his love for storytelling, creativity, visual aesthetics etc., came naturally. He found a perfect amalgamation of all these things in the Communication Leadership program at the UW. He believes that this award is a testament to the fact that Comm Lead and the Department. of Communication encourage out-of-the-box thinking and challenging existing norms, and he is deeply thankful to receive this award.

Best M.A. Thesis 

Charles Kiene                                                                                                                                                   

“Challenges and Adaptations to Technological Change in Online Communities” || Chair: Benjamin Mako Hill

Charles originally got into doing social science research as an undergraduate while leading an independent study, with Assistant Professor Benjamin Mako Hill advising. Since starting the M.A./Ph.D. program in the Department of Communication, he has published four more peer-reviewed research papers in social computing venues, including a collaboration with information science researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder. While his first few research projects centered on how people who manage online communities adapt to social and technological change, he has recently become more interested in broader social questions. His current (and future) work is exploring online governance and the consequences it has for a democratic society. He hopes that this research will contribute rich understandings into how we participate in the networked public sphere, and what it means to use digital communication technologies in a healthy democracy.

Best Honors Thesis

Emmy Engle

“The Relationship between Family Communication Patterns and Personality”

Emmy is a first-generation college student who got the opportunity to attend college only because of financial aid assistance. With a supportive community behind her and help from many knowledgeable sources, she has been continually encouraged to keep moving forward, and to always strive for greatness. She is grateful that the Department of Communication provided her with the opportunity to conduct her own research. Upon receiving this award, she feels reassured in her efforts and the time put into this research, knowing that it has all paid off. Emmy plans to pursue a master’s program in communication studies.

Kirara Nagatsuka

“The ‘Spark Joy’ Study”

Kirara first chose the UW because she wanted to deepen her interest in communication studies. She worked at a radio station, both in the Seattle area and in Japan, from where she is originally. While taking classes in the UW Department of Communication, she took a class with Dr. Valerie Manusov, who teaches nonverbal communication, which changed her life. She was deeply into the study of nonverbal cues and decided to work on her honors thesis with Dr. Manusov to explore her interests even further. She now realizes how passionate she has grown about communication studies and has decided to apply for graduate programs for the following year, 2021. This award means a lot to her, since it proves that her passion and curiosity can be something that others find interesting and worth celebrating!

Janice L. Ames & William E. Ames Diversity Research Award

Anjuli Joshi Brekke

“Sharing Stories of Racism–The Limits of Listening and the Persistence of Hope”

Throughout Anjuli’s adult life, she has been fascinated with the power of the human voice and the potential embedded in acts of listening. As a fellow with the Center for Communication, Difference and Equity (CCDE), she spearheaded an oral history project, website, and listening events centered around sharing experiences of racial discrimination. These spaces also highlighted strategies for countering racism within our community. This digital storytelling project in partnership with the CCDE demonstrates the potential for individual stories to counter hegemonic narratives through centering the needs and voices of the community. Both inside the halls of institutionalized education and through engagement with her community, Anjuli has questioned who has the power to craft narratives and have their voices heard. Receiving the Janice L. Ames & William E. Ames Endowed Fellowship helps her to continue exploring the power of minoritized voices to disrupt entrenched ideologies and foster spaces of deep listening.